Silicon Valley transit officials have chosen five promising apps to assist Bay Area commuters.
On Nov. 3, the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA) revealed winners of its Hack My Ride 2.0 app challenge. The annual endeavor, sponsored this year by Microsoft and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, called on civic tech devotees to invent apps that rethought transit. Out of 2015’s 12 finalists, the VTA selected winners by way of a judging panel and popular vote, with awards totaling $30,000.
VTA runs a countywide bus and lightrail network that carried 43.9 million riders in fiscal year 2015.
The four winning apps included Departures SF Bay, a mobile app to visualize vehicle departure times in augmented reality; Transitime, an open-source app for real-time transit information; Mobility Map, a real-time transit map and social media platform; and OnTransit, an app that crowdsources real-time transit insights.
Cody Kraatz, VTA administrator of digital communications and manager of Hack My Ride 2.0, commended the submissions for their innovative approaches.
“We were very impressed by the creativity,” Kraatz said. “We look forward to exploring how we could get this technology into the hands of VTA’s customers and our local community to help transform how we get around Silicon Valley.”
Next steps entail a deeper analysis of the apps and discussions around possible partnership opportunities to scale the technologies, said Kraatz. “Now that the app challenge is wrapped up, the VTA will be looking more closely at the apps and talking with the submitters about future development."
Here are the winning submissions. More details can be found can be found by visiting hackmyride2.devpost.com/submissions.
Description: Find departures in an augmented reality view.
Awards: $10,000 Grand Prize, $1,500 for Best Data Visualization, $1,500 for Best Ridership Growth or Retention award.
Details: Hack My Ride 2.0 brought the Departures app to the San Francisco Bay Area from Switzerland and New York City. The app shows departure times of public transportation agencies throughout the Bay Area in augmented reality, helping users discover what transit service is nearby and when it will arrive. The user just holds the iPhone into the air and immediately sees real-time information on trains and buses. The user can select whether he wants to see the station boards in full screen or on a map.
Description: Open-source real-time transit information for the entire world.
Awards: $7,500 Second Prize, $1,500 for Best Crowdsourcing App.
Details: As the project’s developer Michael Smith puts it, transit agencies have relied too long on “mediocre yet incredibly expensive real-time information systems. Now it is time to change that.” Transitime provides an open-source system that can use any source of GPS location information to provide real-time transit information. It’s designed to be used by everything from small shuttle systems all the way up to huge transit agencies in developing countries.
Description: Real-time social integration for transportation enthusiasts.
Award: $5,000 Third Prize.
Details: Mobility Map began with a conversation involving VTA representatives at a Code for San Jose CodeAcross event about creating better online discussions about transportation. Mobility Map creators Zach Pallin and Wilson Wang wanted a forum where information is shared in real time and associated with geographical data, something that could produce reports about what issues concern people, and be central and scalable enough to be applied in any transportation network. They came up with Mobility Map, a responsive website built on the open-source Shareabouts platform. Users sign in with Twitter or Facebook and can post “Hints” about transportation on the map. They can use categories to allow others to search the map. The app enables discussions through comment threads and encourages social sharing.
Description: Crowdsourced real-time transit information.
Award: $1,500 Popular Choice Prize.
Details: OnTransit is a mobile website that crowdsources vehicle positions to generate real-time arrival predictions. This app loads transit schedule data from VTA, and then presents a list of nearby stops or trips. If a user opts into sharing their location by saying they are on a transit vehicle, the real-time arrival information will be calculated for that transit trip and each stop on the route. The real-time predictions only work with the help of transit riders, which makes it a fitting winner of the Popular Choice prize.
Description: Beacon-based instant info via an app, smartwatch or website
Award: $1,500 Best Use of Beacons Prize.
Details: The TransitTimes app offers Bluetooth beacon-based instant real-time information about when the bus or train will arrive at your stop via a native smartphone app, smartwatch or website. The core of the idea is to provide riders on public transit systems with information about upcoming bus or train arrivals as soon as they get to the station. Also, a "Nearby" tab uses the location of the phone to show a list of nearby transit stops and information about them. The third tab is the "Beacon" tab, which brings the user to a more detailed view of the stop and the stop times. The last major functionality of the app is to interface with a Pebble smartwatch app, so that whenever a new beacon is seen, all the info shown on the phone is also shown on a Pebble smartwatch.
This story was updated on Nov. 4 to include an additional "Hack My Ride" winner.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.